Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Meaning of 'Equal'
When we chose the name Equally Shared Parenting to describe our specific parenting lifestyle, we struggled with whether or not it fully described our philosophies. In truth, the term 'egalitarian marriage with children' is more accurate, but not nearly as catchy or easy to remember. 'Shared parenting' is dominated by the world of custody arrangements post-divorce. And terms like 'parenting together' or 'role-sharing parenting' are not descriptive enough.

And so we embraced Equally Shared Parenting as the best all-around, easy-to-say, generally descriptive term. But every so often, we encounter objections. One objection is to the word 'equal'. Objectors say 'but we're equal parents too, even though we have a traditional arrangement'. I think the confusion here is in the way 'equal' is meant. We certainly don't mean that partners in other types of marriages are less equal as humans. In our chosen terminology, 'equal(ly)' comes before the word 'shared'; we want to convey that Equally Shared Parenting means the parenting is equally shared between two people.

Even so, our term can still be misleading. We mean so much more than equal sharing of parenting. We mean equal sharing of breadwinning and housework, and recreation time, too. And equal involvement in the overall health and well-being of the family. All of this is connected, of course, to equal regard for each other as parents, partners and individuals...but this equal regard is also what we hope happens with any type of parenting lifestyle - be it traditional or equal sharing.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Equal Sharing: A Good Marriage with Great Sex
Shortly after Valentine's Day, the Boston Globe published an historical look at marriage - who is likely to marry, who is likely to be happy while married, and which married couples are likely to have a great sex life. The author, marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, takes the reader on a tour of research over the past 50+ years, and debunks some myths that still get play today. The full story is definitely worth reading.

But what really got us excited was direct mention of how men and women in egalitarian marriages - where men take on their share of housework and childcare, and women are equal breadwinners - are the happiest, the most sexually satisfied, and the least likely to divorce. We've thought this all along, of course!

Here are some direct quotes:

'One reason educated women are more likely to marry today than in the past is that modern men are less threatened by equality and more interested in finding a mate who can share the burdens of breadwinning.'

'College graduates are more likely to have egalitarian ideas about sharing housework and breadwinning, and recent research shows that egalitarian ideas and behaviors improve marital satisfaction for both men and women.'

'Educated husbands are also more likely to help with housework, which turns out to be a potent aphrodisiac. Psychologist John Gottman, professor emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle, found that when men do more housework, their wives are more likely to be "in the mood" for sex.'

'Studies have shown that men whose attitudes become more egalitarian during their marriage report higher marital satisfaction, and so do their wives; they also have better sex lives and more socially aware children.'

While this study focuses on how a highly educated woman is now closer to an ideal partner than ever before, I think that it is really saying that equality makes a great context for marriage. Care to join us?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

MomsRising is Indeed Rising Up
Check out this article in the New York Times today on the political action group MomsRising. This wonderful group has a 6 point plan for US businesses and government that is a true family-focused political agenda. The group has produced a powerful documentary entitled The Motherhood Manifesto that is a must-see for parents (it is sold for only $6 on MomsRising.org); Marc and I have watched it, and I also screened it with my local working moms discussion group.

We hope someday the world will be ready for ParentsRising (after all, most of the needed changes are highly beneficial to involved fathers as well as mothers). But the majority of parenting in this country is still done by mothers, and so MomsRising is harnessing that power and getting high level attention. May the power grow and grow, and amount to big changes in flexible work arrangements, quality television choices for our children, excellent outside childcare, paid maternity/paternity leaves, healthcare coverage for all kids, and fair wages for involved parents.

A bit of EquallySharedParenting debuted today on MomsRising.org too - a great mention by Miriam Peskowitz of our blog on 'On Balance' earlier this week. So, welcome to MomsRising readers and advocates. We're kind of the personal side of what MomsRising is politically; our hope is to empower parents to claim balanced and fun lives for themselves as individuals, and MomsRising is working on making that possible on a global scale. We think together we make a great team!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ESP Goes to Washington
Today was a day to remember for EquallySharedParenting.com - we were featured in the Washington Post's On Balance blog! On Balance is hosted by Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of the book Mommy Wars; it is probably the most widely read daily column on work/life balance for parents. So, a big thank you to Leslie and to all her readers for welcoming us and sharing excellent comments, questions and ideas. If you'd like to read our post and the ensuing commentary, check out the entry from 2/20/07. We look forward to more comments from On Balance readers here at EquallySharedParenting.com - welcome!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Your Permission Slip to Dream Big
It is probably not news to anyone that the US will be short workers in the future. With the Baby Boomers starting to retire and fewer younger workers to take their place, the workplace will soon be an employee's market. As soon as 2010 (only 3 years from now!) it is estimated that this country will be short some 17 million workers according to this recent article in the Boston Globe.

Now more than ever before, employers need to make their workplaces friendly in order to retain talented staff who don't plan to retire anytime soon. If you can hold up your end of the bargain by being talented and useful at work, chances are that you can get the schedule and perhaps even the pay you want. It may take asking more than once or twice, or even switching jobs (although this puts you back at the beginning in terms of proving your talent and usefulness again with a new company). But the overall odds are in your favor.

If you have been wanting a different schedule, but were afraid to ask, work hard on gathering up that courage. You truly don't know what is possible if you don't ask. Even if you are the first person in your company of 2000 to ask for reduced hours, go ahead. Marc did this years ago (before he met me) and after repeated rejection, he was finally granted a trial at part-time hours. His boss's main worry was 'if I give this to you, everyone else will want it'. Marc's response: 'I seriously doubt many people will beat a path to your door to request a pay cut.' Marc was right - no one else asked. And Marc got to trade a fat paycheck for an adequate paycheck with a balanced life.

We're here to say 'jump in - the water's warm' and encourage you to live your dreams.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sharing Nicely
This humorous article in today's New York Times discusses 'alpha' and 'beta' personalities and how difficult it can be to share the household domain with your dearest. The kitchen is highlighted here, with several examples of men who rule this space and women who feel pushed aside there.

It is hard to share nicely. Sometimes the best solution is to get out of each other's way and surrender parts of the household to each other. But with things like cooking and keeping the kitchen in order, it is hard to abdicate all authority and responsibility to your partner.

Another solution is to divide the realm and lower your standards. Think of sharing as a great exercise in letting go. Control freaks (such as me) can feel themselves tense up when they can't have things their way; that tensing can be a signal to practice letting go instead...just to see what disaster might happen. After all, what's the worst thing that could happen if your husband prepares a horrid meal and no one eats it. I can almost guarantee that what you are imagining is not as bad as the consequences of butting in and 'fixing' the situation mid-preparation.

People learn by experimenting and experience. If the meal is inedible, the fact that the family rejects it is far more powerful as a learning tool than if you pointed out ahead-of-time that your spouse was 'doing it wrong'.

I can say all of this because I have internal dialogue with myself frequently about not butting in. I want equality much more than perfection, and so I give myself the 'what's the worse thing that could happen?' quiz when Marc folds the towels 'wrong', dresses the kids 'wrong', or puts the toys away in all the 'wrong' places. If I can stop my mouth from criticizing or my eyes from rolling, I can either learn to live with Marc's way of doing things or he can figure out over time whether I might have a better way (or not). If things really bug me, I can bring them up some other time instead of right when the 'wrong' is committed. At least that's the theory!

Monday, February 12, 2007

England "Flexing" Its Muscle
For the better part of 10 years I have enjoyed flexible work arrangements. Half of this time I was single and childless. Whether or not I was responsible for a family during my flexed hours, I made every attempt to avoid burdening coworkers with additional tasks because of my schedule. Sometimes this meant working late before a day off or logging in from home to keep a project moving forward. Despite my efforts, there have certainly been times when I relied on coworkers to pick up the slack when I was away from the office; and these coworkers were not always single and carefree.

England has been in the news lately regarding its law on flextime. I'm sure many workers there were originally against implementing the current laws allowing all parents with kids under age 6 to ask for flexible work arrangements. But despite arguments, the current law is proposed to be broadened in April to include workers who need flexibility to care for relatives or partners. Apparently, these changes have thus far been widely viewed as minimally disruptive to businesses and tremendously beneficial to society at large based on a proposal by the Children's Minister.

Of course, the debate will rage on across England on the pros and cons of this proposal, but I have to say I like the consistency of the message. Everyone should have the right to ask for flexibility without fear of negative consequences. People may have that right now (even here in the US), but a government stamp of approval for that right may help move society along the path to a more balanced and sane life.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Sacred Mother
I was happy and also annoyed to see this article in Babble on equal parenting. In typical Babble style, it splays out the raw feelings of its author - a woman whose husband does almost all the cooking and is a highly involved father. She is clearly appreciative of his family role, but feels threatened by both his sheer usefulness (and her clumsiness in the kitchen) and by his closeness with their daughter.

I could comment on the first 'threat', but my big beef is with the second. When our partners manage to establish deep and lasting bonds with our children, we can do one of two things. We can rejoice for our children, knowing that both of their parents are rocks of comfort, stability and love for them. Or we can be jealous and feel robbed of our rights to that age-old sacred mother-child bond. Which of these choices is about us, and which is about our kids?

The author of this story does say that she values her husband's partnership and involvement more than she regrets not being the sole Number 1 with her daughter, but she still feels left out when their little girl runs to be comforted by Daddy.

I remember distinctly one day when Marc and I were at a birthday party of one of M's friends. M must have been about 2 years old at the time. Right there, in front all the other moms tending to their kids, my M fell off the swingset and ran crying right past me to get a hug from Marc. It was a classic equally shared parenting moment. I could have felt useless and jealous. And maybe I did feel a twinge of embarrassment when I thought the other moms might be judging me. But what I really felt was 'we did it'. And I was happy for M, knowing that she has both of us to choose from when she needs comfort.

Now, if M always favored Marc over me, it would be another story - a symptom of my lesser involvement. But that is not the case. She waffles back and forth, sometimes preferring me for stretches of time and sometimes being closer to Marc. Often, her preference depends on the activity. I'm sure the same will happen with T, who is not yet old enough to show these preference swings. We take care not to pigeon-hole either of us into a specific role, however, so both of our kids know we're capable and interested in all aspects of the family life. This preserves our equal status.

So, I take issue with the whole idea that mothers get to hog the stronger bond with their kids. Wanting or needing this is about the mother. Kids are not here to complete us; rather, we're here to nurture and teach and raise our children to be happy and socially functional adults.

On a separate note, here is an excellent blog entry on equally shared parenting from Working Writing Wailing Mama. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Where's Daddy?
The Mommy War is a common media vehicle that gets dragged out, dusted off and recycled a lot these days. It pits stay-at-home mothers against working mothers, when most of us know that the real parenting issues are not (or should not be) between mothers at all. But every so often, a writer asks the obvious question in one of these Mommy War articles? That question is 'Where's Daddy?'.

Are fathers torn between working and staying home with their kids? Are they judging one another for how they are managing their career trajectories once they become parents? Not so much. But a real solution to the woes of American mothers is for American fathers to be their true partners. The burdens and joys of raising a child do not have to be given to one parent primarily.

The Mommy War would be silenced if we were all equally sharing parents. Then, the media discussion would have to turn to what really matters - political and business issues such as flexible parental leave, and interesting, rewarding and well-paying reduced-hours jobs for parents.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Thank you to Miriam
In launching EquallySharedParenting.com, Marc and I have a vision of making this lifestyle an option for more parenting couples, and of connecting those who already practice it. We want to open others' eyes to the possibilities, as well as the challenges, of equal sharing - in a world where so much is discussed about parents' lives of stress and anxiety.

And so when we read the recent blog entries at Everyday Mom, written by the highly respected writer and on-the-front-lines political mother Miriam Peskowitz, we felt great. Miriam calls EquallySharedParenting.com a new favorite of hers and welcomes us to the parenting blogosphere. Miriam is involved in several crucial projects in the motherhood arena, including Mother Talk and MomsRising. So, when she says she is betting we have a vision worth pursuing, the validation feels very real.

Thank you, Miriam - your support means the world to us.

What Makes Parents Share Equally?
It is a joy to swap stories with another parenting couple who equally share their household, childraising and breadwinning. One of the things I like best about this exchange is that I get to find out why they are equally sharing. Every couple has a slightly different take on how they ended up where they are now.

There are those couples who vow not to become traditionalists. They enjoy bucking the status quo, and usually establish a unique way of life for themselves before they have children. When their first child comes along, they fashion a new unique life with their baby. In talking with this type of equally sharing couple, I get the sense that they want to see how far they can ride out their current lifestyle before they have to mix things up again. And that they will keep choosing something out of the ordinary.

Then there are those who say they just 'fell into it'. Often, a subconscious shift from the traditional happens for these couples when they make a specific decision about one of their jobs. For example, the father might have been laid off early in their baby's life; this crisis may have led to a prolonged paternity 'leave' in which Dad bonds so closely with his baby that he then seeks a position that allows him to stay home one day a week. These couples may have fallen into equal sharing, but most of them say they don't think they would ever want to return to their old ways. What started as a subtle unconscious shift becomes a purposeful and carefully guarded lifestyle.

And then we have the 'simple living' group. It is not uncommon for at least one of the parents in these couples to have dabbled in part-time work before having children or even before meeting. Living a balanced and serene life is highly important to these individuals, and they prioritize simplicity over the stressed-out juggling act that so many traditional couples do once they have children. It is not a big sacrifice for these couples to work less than full time, because money definitely doesn't buy their happiness.

I could go on and on. I haven't even mentioned the die-hard feminists who would be deeply unhappy in an unequal marriage. Or the made-to-be-a-father men who don't want to miss out on their children's upbringing. Or even the practical couple who realizes that it simply makes the most sense for them to equally share their family - financially as well as from a balance standpoint.

As for me and for Marc, we fit a few of the descriptions above. Marc definitely values simplicity and balance. He did not fall into equal sharing; he sought it out quite deliberately. My reasons include a bit of feminist 'fairness' mixed with a deep desire to literally share my family with my partner with everyday intimacy.

Lots of different couples practice equally shared parenting. Marc and I would like to make EquallySharedParenting.com a forum for equal sharers of all types to tell their stories. What makes you equally share? Or if you don't do so today, what would make you want to move in this direction?

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